While most of the responses to last week’s column on conservatism and libertarianism were favorable, there was also repetition of a few specific criticisms which, due to their general fogginess of logic, demand address.
First, libertarianism is not anarchy. If it was anarchy, or a total lack of governmental order, one would simply call it that. There would be no such thing as libertarians, only anarchists. The fact that the two parties identify themselves separately and are easily distinguished should serve as the first clue that perhaps libertarians are not, in fact, anarchists.
Second, to be libertarian is not necessarily to be a libertine. A libertine is a hedonist, a devotee of personal pleasure, whereas a libertarian is one who defends the libertine and his lifestyle against the heavy hand of government. This does not mean the two should ever be equated, as libertarians will just as readily defend the evangelical pro-life protester, the Jewish intellectual, the pagan pothead or the Catholic cigarette smoker.
However, it is the third criticism in which I am most interested, which is that a society run by a Libertarian government cannot possibly function as conceived. What puzzles me is the implied demand for the Libertarian Party to be judged by a standard which is never, ever applied to either the Democratic or the Republican parties.
Political ideologies represent the manifestation of intellectual ideals. Shall we not then examine the intellectual ideals of our two major parties? Democrats like to blather interminably about democracy, which presumably represents their ideal. But despite some whining about the Electoral College after the last presidential election, no Democrat ever talks seriously about using the power of eminently available technology to wholly replace the three branches of federal government with what would be the perfectly realized Will of the People.
Of course, it is not true democracy that interests Democrats as much as the expansion of central power at the expense of the states and the individual. In either case, one seldom hears critiques based on either of the party’s ideologies, eponymous or hidden.
Republican ideology is based on republicanism, which conceives a government in which the sovereign authority is granted by the people, and which rules according to law. This ideal is rather closer to our constitutional form of government, but has not been in force in this country since 1865, which is when the first Republican president elected to use military force to end what was a legal and distinctly constitutional secession. Say what you will of slavery, but the South still surrendered at the point of a gun.
Indeed, Republicans in office show no more regard for the law than their Democratic counterparts, who at least have the theoretical excuse of being ideologically opposed to the notion of limited government. The Republican party, for all its small-government posturing, seems to more accurately represent the ideal of maintaining the status quo and using the power of central government on behalf of more traditional interests. And since history shows that the one thing that cannot ever be maintained is the status quo, here, too, the Republican ideals fall short.
Therefore, if you would judge the hypothetical failings of Libertarian ideology, how much more must you condemn the manifest flaws of the Democratic and Republican ideals?
The truth is, neither I nor any other Libertarian can say precisely what is the true and proper size of government that would maximize individual freedom and liberty. What I can say with complete assurance is that it is much smaller than the massively corrupt institutions that plague us at the local, state and federal levels.
By the way, I’ll go so far as to assert that God, in addition to being a monarchist, also has strongly libertarian leanings. How else can you describe an all-powerful king who goes so far as to let his creation choose whether to obey him or not? Liberty is all about the individual freedom to choose, and those who try to deny it are not on the side of the angels no matter what they might think.
No, I’m not “pro-choice” in the sense of pro-abortion terminology – quite the opposite. This stays well within the framework of Libertarian logic because there are, quite obviously, at least two parties involved, possibly even three. The fact that one is incapable of consent only makes the Libertarian anti-abortion argument that much more clear.